Episode 6: POV - How to see our box

In this episode Jimmy and Patty continue the conversation in their Point of View (POV) series.

As followers of Jesus our church creed or statement of faith (SoF) can tell us about our box. Learning how to read it closely is very important for all believers.

This is a useful exercise in defining your POV, and learning to be aware of your box. Unfortunately most christians will never do this, and as a result are unaware of their spiritual bias.

Find our full show notes and additional resources here. 

Episode Summary - 

In this episode Jimmy and Patty sit down to try and understand their POV or box by examining their own churches creed or statement of faith. While this can appear to be a strange exercise, what our church believes is often a box that has been built for us, given to us, and most christians are unaware of it. It is important to examine our boxes to see if they are still serving us well spiritually, or if they are in need of upgrading, review, and discussion. The biggest danger comes in not being aware of our box, or confusing our box with the Bible. The Bible, by design needs to be interpreted in order to be properly understood, and in the spirit of the Bible being living and active (Hebrews 4:12) it speaks into each age in new and sometimes surprising ways.

Main Points -

This is the hardest part. In terms of being aware of their biases most Christians live entire lives without being aware of their box. It is especially tough for Christians to be aware of the box that they are in, because they are usually surrounded by people who think similar if not identical to them. And to compound the problem all christians regardless of their denomination see the bible as the center of their faith.

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (WCE) there is an estimated 33,000+ distinct denominations of Christianity spread over 238 countries. The WCE breaks this down into broader categories as follows:

      • Independents: 22,000 denominations 
      • Protestants: 9000 denominations 
      • Marginals: 1600 denominations 
      • Orthodox: 781 denominations 
      • Catholics: 242 denominations 
      • Anglicans: 168 denominations

While this exact figure has been debated and is considered controversial by some (see side bar), it is apparent that there are many different distinct boxes that different christians can and do fall into. 

The best way that I can see of understanding the box you may be operating out of is to look at a few things. 

Step one - How to see your box - Read your church’s Creed or statement of Faith

The first step is to look at whatever creed or statement of faith that your church tradition subscribes to. Again, many believers are blissfully unaware of their being any statement of faith or creed that they subscribe to. 

The importance of knowing your churches box (POV)

A long time ago I was visiting another church tradition, and I got into a conversation with one of the people I was with. I was aware that their particular tradition believed in the transubstantiation of the eucharist (the communion wafer and the wine becoming the literal body and blood of Jesus during the mass). She was asking me what difference was there between my tradition and hers, we both believe in the same bible after all and read the same bible. 

I mentioned the transubstantiation being one place our traditions disagreed. Perplexed she asked me what that was. After explaining the concept to her she just laughed saying that was ridiculous and that her tradition certainly did not believe that. I grabbed a catechism from one of the pews and quickly found where it did in fact say that her tradition did believe in transubstantiation. She was confused wondering why she never knew this (she had grown up in this tradition and was an active member in the congregation). 

This is an illustrative example to me that people often are not even aware of what box they happen to find themselves in. However, even if we are not aware of something, does not mean that it cannot have power over us. I may be unaware of a car speeding around the corner, but even if I do not see it does not negate its power to seriously hurt me or even kill me. The boxes that are around us from our traditions are similar in power whether we are aware of them or not.  

Creeds and statements of faith are basically records of past arguments, and they are usually written down by the people who believe they won the argument. 

Before I joined the particular tradition I am in now, it is customary for members to study the bible with prospective members before joining. The idea is that they need to fully understand what they are getting into when joining this particular church. And admission for my tradition typically means agreement on certain doctrinal  points. 

One afternoon we were sitting in someones living room for about an hour or so going over some concept. While I will not go into detail here. Suffice it to say while at the time I agreed with them (especially with the scriptures that were being cherrypicked for the lesson) that what they were showing me in the Bible made sense. However, I did not really see the big deal to the discussion. They really seemed to be driving the point home, asking me several times and many different ways if I understood an agreed with what they were trying to tell me. 

I remember realizing at the moment that was getting glimpse on an argument that was older than me. That there was some conflict that lied beneath the surface that did not matter as much now as it did when this class was first put together. I remember saying as much. I remember the blank stares as well, and I think we simply moved on. At the time I did not think they understood what I was getting at, but I was content to move on as well. Even back then I did not mind people fully agreeing with me or seeing everything my way. 

Go and Read Your Creed (Or Statement of Faith) 

The first step in identifying your box is to go and read your churches creed or statement of faith. 

Now in my own particular tradition my church would claim that it has no creed because the Bible is its creed. This of course is extremely naive, and assumes that the Bible can simply be picked up by anybody and understood simplistically. But aside from this dangerous ideology (or restoration hermeneutic), there is still a way to get at what I would call my church’s creed or statement of faith. 

I went to my church’s website. Usually they publish on their site what they believe in, and hold to be indisputable. This is in a sense their creed. 

Find the packed suitcases

The first step is to look for what I like to call packed language. N.T. likes to talk about how many phases and terms we tend to through around are like suitcases or baggage. There are short hand for biblical concepts or theological assumptions that have been argued, debated, and generally accepted as true to a particular denomination or tradition. While these shorthands can be extremely useful in discussions and sermons, they also have their drawbacks. 

In his book Scripture and the Authority of God, N.T. Wright talks at length about the necessity to take our theological baggage (or what I call packed language) labeled with shorthand’s such as original sin, fallen world, saved by grace, salvation, sovereignty of God, election, and other such shorthand’s, and make sure that we unpack it ever now and then and examine it. 

Is anything broken? Does everything still work correctly? Does anything need to be updated and replaced? Do I need to keep this? Are there some items that can be discarded as no longer useful? 

First suitcase - the trinity

Right in the title we see an appeal to the concept of the trinity. It is taken as given that God is three distinct persons in one: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. However, this is not explicitly stated in scripture anywhere. A quick word search on BibleGateway.com for the trinity yields exactly zero results.

While the Father, son, and the Holy Spirit does appear together in scriptures, it only occurs once. The Father, Son, and the Spirit appear together in Matthew 28:19 in what has come to be called the Great Commission (another shorthand that needs to be unpacked and looked at from time to time).  

In fact this concept of the trinity is not talked about at all in the scriptures. It is there if you look for it, and piece it together from different scriptures to make your case, but it was not something that the authors of the New Testament seemed to concern themselves with at all.

In fact if you went back in time and started to talk to Paul about the trinity he would not have known what you were talking about. He most likely would have agreed with you after you explained it to him. But he (like most of us today) would not have understood the big deal, taking it for granted that there was one God and not three.

Why does this matter anyway? It did not seem to matter to the New Testament, so why should it matter to us? Why do so many creeds and statements of faith state explicitly this assertion that God is three distinct persons with different attributes, but also one. Even here in my own churches our belief page it’s right there front and center. 

Creeds and Statements of faith as records of arguments long forgotten

Most creeds and statements of faith are records of arguments that no one cares about anymore. At some point there must have been a controversy about the trinity, and about whether or not there was one God or three. And the controversy was so pronounced and so severe that they thought it was a good idea to write it down and make sure no one would ever forget that truly there is only one God. 

This can seem crazy to many of us. How could anyone think there is more than one god in the Bible. However, is you look at the Bible closely enough this is not such a crazy idea. (If you have never been reading your bible and wondered about this I can promise you that you are not reading your Bible carefully or often enough.) 

Through the first five books of the bible it is never explicitly stated that there is only one God, and the Torah seems to take as given the reality of other gods or other spiritual entities.  It did not take scholars long to notice this either, and it is not even just a Christian idea. Very long ago people noticed that there seemed to be different aspects of God that some people began to see as entirely different people. 

For instance in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) God is sometimes referred to as El Elohim (GOD) and is sometime referred to as Yahweh (LORD GOD). And these were not just two different names like El Elohim was Gods proper name, and Yahweh was the nickname. These seemed to have entirely different personalities, enough so that at times they can even appear to be two separate people. 

For example El Elohim is the one who spoke the world into existence, and separated the mighty waters to create dry land. But Yahweh made man with with his own two hands, and walked and talked with the man and woman in the cool of the day. 

El Elohim is larger than life and seems all powerful. Yahweh at times seems more human like, and even seems to lose track of Adam and Eve after they sin. 

One of these characters is more relatable and you could imagine hanging out with him, while the other is strange and capable of wonders and powerful deeds. 

This led some to conclude that these were two distinct individuals. Or two separate gods. Since Judaism then and now is a monotheistic religion and not polytheistic (another two great shorthands), how then can there be two Gods in the Old Testament? The simple that Scholars of came up with is that these are merely names of God, different titles that highlight a different personality of God. 

Something similar happened when people began noticing the differences between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In many ways on close reading they seem like totally different people. Some even began wondering if they were separate Gods entirely. This caused, as you guessed it, a great and wonderful controversy that ragged on for many years. However, since it is not intuitive when reading the scriptures that these three entities are in fact three aspects of the one same God, it is still to this day something that is mentioned front and center in many creeds, in case anyone reading there bible carefully get any funny ideas. 

But like all things that are packed up in our suitcases of our packed language it is important to look at this every now and then properly. Does this really make sense? Do I believe this? Why do I believe this? What does this belief add to my fait? If it wasn’t important to the New Testament why should this be important to me? Do I really agree with this statement? Does this really matter anymore? Are there people who don’t believe in the triune nature of God? Why do they believe this? Why is this important to my church? 

Going through the creed like this and identifying the packed language, the shorthands, and theological baggage is a good practice to do on an annual to semi annual basis. Why? Because we must constantly examine even the things that we take for granted as being true and ask ourselves is this what I really believe? Is this concept still useful? Is this argument that this statement answers still relevant? Is it still useful? 

Or as Paul put it: 

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you [a]fail the test? [[a]Lit are unapproved]

2 Corinthians 13:5

It is important as a Christian to do this regularly. And honestly it is an expectation (2 Corinthians 13:5). As the new humanity (Ephesians 2:15) quite frankly it is our holy and sacred responsibility to be examining ourselves, what we believe, and what our church believes. 

Or to put it another way: What is our box? 

It is of vital importance to see our box and to continually question our box, to examine it and to see if our box is the box that we wish to be in. It is important to understand that you cannot escape the box! 

There is no such thing as purely independent thinking. There is not one true way to interpret the scriptures. It is important that we understand this. Do not seek to be free of biases — this is impossible. Instead be aware of your bias — be aware of your box. And then learn to question the box. 

Below I have briefly underlined some of the key shorthands, packed language, and theological suitcases that need some unpacking! 

Now, I admit that this is not the most specific statement of faith I have ever read. Since this is a public website my suspicion is that it was left as vague as possible so as not to turn off perspective attendees. 

However, my church tradition is a part of a much larger, international church tradition. Around 2006 they put together what was called a unity proposal. While all of these churches were once a larger corporate entity around 2003 many of these broke up into separate yet unified wholes. Most in our congregation are unaware of this unity statement, but it does a much better job of spelling out what churches that are a part of my tradition should believe, teach, and how their lives should be conducted. 

I am giving you a link to that unity statement here: 

http://icocco-op.org/wp-content/uploads/2006/03/englishproposal.pdf

And at another time  I will break down that unity statement. I think it is a great attempt to spell out the beliefs of the tradition that I am currently in. I wish more regular people in our congregation were aware of it, and that it was taught from more from the church. I have been wanting to go over this as well since I have been unsure about my own tradition. I know that we are in need of reform. (We should always constantly be seeking out reform in our hearts and churches. (1 Corinthians 11:31))

But what I highlighted in green for you above should give you enough of a base to study out. For instance some of the questions you could ask: 

  • What is a sister church? 
        • Is that in the bible? 
        • Is that a modern convention? 
        • Does a sister church need to receive support to be considered a sister church? 
  • How do Jesus’ words heal? 
        • Is the concept of Jesus’s healing words a biblical one? 
        • How could I show from the bible that Jesus’ words heal? 
        • How has Jesus’ words healed me? 
  • How is a soul saved? 
        • Does the bible talk about saving souls? 
        • What are we saving souls from? 
        • What is a soul? 
        • Does the Bible talk about soul? 
  • What does it mean for Scriptures to be inspired by God? 
        • Does the bible talk about how Scriptures are inspired by God? 
        • How do we know that they are inspired by God? 
        • How do I apply the Scriptures to my life? 
        • What does it mean to live my life according to the scriptures? 

Challenge of the Week (C.O.W.)

Every journey starts with a single step. Our goal is for us to personally share our takeaways and put things into action. Do you want to be held accountable? Or hold us accountable?

Choose one or two of the challenges below.

Welcome to the Life to the Full Community!

Episode Six C.O.W. (POV - How to See Our Box)

CHALLENGE:  

  1. FIND your churches creed or statement of faith online.
  1. PRINT it out so you can read it, highlight it, and take notes. 
  1. HIGHLIGHT all the shorthands and  packed language you can find. 
    1. ASK - Do I Believe This? 
      1. IF YES - can you prove it scripturally
        1. IF YES - good! Write the scriptures down in the margins.
        2. IF NO - then you have some studying to do, ask someone to help you or study it out yourself. 
      2. IF NO - then you may have a problem
        1. SEEK HELP - ask your church leaders or other church leaders for help 
        2. STUDY IT OUT ON YOUR OWN - read books about the issue that your church believes that you do not believe 
          1. STILL NOT CONVINCED - then quite simply, you may want to engage in conversation with your church

Book Recommendation

Book nerds! Below are this episode's book recommendations. If you are interested in purchasing any of these books, then please use these links below.

They help support the show with no additional cost to you. Thanks in advance!

While not exactly 'light reading' the World Christian Encyclopedia should eventually find its way to every true student of God, the Bible, and the church.

This next book by N.T. Wright has been recommended before, and will be recommended again. Scripture and the Authority of God is a short but extremely dense book. If you haven't already picked this extremely important book up, then what are you waiting for!